True or False?

How to Tell If a Particular Memory Is True or False
Daniel M. Bernstein and Elizabeth F. Loftus
Association for Psychological Science Volume 4—Number 4

How can you tell if a particular memory belonging to you or someone else is true or false? Cognitive scientists use a variety of techniques to measure groups of memories, whereas police, lawyers, and other researchers use procedures to determine whether an individual can be believed or not. We discuss evidence from behavioral and neuroimaging studies and research on lying that have attempted to distinguish true from false memories.

We remember events, people, and places all the time, but how accurate are those memories? More specifically, how can we identify true memories from false ones? A majority of studies trying to answer this question have tended to focus on one of several possible methods of analysis, concentrating on either groups of memories being reported (e.g., studying word lists and then remembering related words that were not included in the original lists) or the person who is reporting the memories (for example, using a battery of self-report questionnaires and behavioral assessments to predict who may be susceptible to forming false memories). In a new report, Daniel M. Bernstein and Elizabeth F. Loftus suggest that a combined approach — focusing on groups of memories, on the person who is remembering, and on the individual memory — along with taking advantage of a variety of research tools available (such as imaging devices, mathematical models, analysis techniques, and statistical methods) may be the best way to determine if a memory is truth or fiction.

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